REVIEW: Coming 2 America (2021)

Eddie Murphy stars in COMING 2 AMERICA. — Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Directed by Craig Brewer (Dolemite Is My Name) — Screenplay by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield.

Craig Brewer’s Coming 2 America takes place 30 years after the events of the first film, and the sequel still follows Akeem (played by Eddie Murphy), who has now become king of Zamunda, as he tries to figure out who his heir to the throne will be. The neighboring nation conveniently called Nextdoria (you get the joke) has proposed that since Akeem has no male successor to the throne, his eldest daughter, Meeka (played by KiKi Layne), should be married to the eldest son of the leader of Nextdoria for the purpose of bringing the two nations closer together. But Akeem doesn’t like that idea, so he is looking for another way out of this problem.

Not long thereafter, it is revealed to him that when he and Semmi (played by Arsenio Hall) traveled to America, Akeem slept with a woman (played by Leslie Jones) after he had been drugged and that she has since brought a ‘bastard son,’ Lavelle Junson (played by Jermaine Fowler), into the world. Akeem rejects the notion that he could simply change the Zambundian tradition and instead let his eldest daughter be the heir to the throne, and so he returns to America to retrieve his son so that he can become his crown prince. When Lavelle begrudgingly agrees to go with his father, it becomes clear that this film really should’ve been called Coming to Zambunda instead.

Since I haven’t rewatched it more than once, I probably can’t say that I am a huge fan of the original film, but I will say that I like it quite a bit. I think it is a really great fish-out-of-water romantic-comedy, which means that I think the central relationship between Murphy’s Akeem and Shari Headley’s Lisa was the beating heart of that film. But it was also very funny. What frustrates me about this sequel is that it feels like a tired retread of the punchlines of the first film, while it also fails to capture what made that film so pleasant.

Many of the new jokes in this film felt unfunny, cheesy, or like forced sketch comedy, to me. The film did make me chuckle or smile from time to time, but that was mostly due to some of the film’s callbacks, of which there are way too many. I can’t say that I enjoyed the story either. While I do think that it was smart for them to do a reversed plot, i.e. now bringing the fish-out-of-water element back to Zambunda with Fowler’s character, I really don’t like how they managed to do that, which is to say that this film’s retcon of the events of the first film (the one night stand) that allows for the introduction of Lavelle Junson is both fairly uncomfortable and problematic. On top of that, I also found it disappointing that this film’s romance subplot was underwritten.

Hollywood has a pretty wonky history with comedy sequels that were released many many years after the original hit. While the idea that people will want to watch a sequel to a hit comedy that they grew up with is sound, for some reason many comedy sequels released several years after the original film fail to capture what made the original special. You need only look at films like the Farrelly brothers’ Dumb and Dumber To or Ben Stiller’s Zoolander 2, both of which I thought were very disappointing, for relatively recent examples of this, and those films were even made by the directors who found success with the original films back in the day.

Craig Brewer, of course, did not direct the 1988 cult fish-out-of-water romantic-comedy Coming to America, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but, unfortunately, even Brewer, who had recently struck gold with the brilliant Eddie Murphy-led Dolemite Is My Name, fails to recapture the lightning in a bottle that made the original film so successful and memorable. Brewer’s sequel is not entirely unfunny, but it mostly relies on fairly empty callback humor and an underwritten romance plot, which just means that it feels like the heart of the first film is missing here.

4.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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